Things have moved on rather a lot since I gave my first impressions and highlighted my core questions in choosing between my existing iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro. Further usage of it has made it abundantly clear that the iPad Pro cannot replace a standard iPad. It’s ridiculously over-sized for reading or watching Netflix in bed, and there are other times when the smaller version was simply more convenient.
But I do still love that screen! It’s great for casual web-browsing – better than either my MacBooks or iPad Air 2. It’s fantastic for viewing photos. It’s great for ebooks so long as you’re not trying to read them in bed. Magazines are amazing. Netflix is great with the huge screen and really loud speakers. Split View makes it a genuine multi-tasking device.
So, the question now is: send the iPad Pro back, or keep both devices? I said last time that I really couldn’t see a justification for having that much cash invested in iOS devices. One commentator responded to this with “Ah, just do it” – which I have to confess is a well-argued position.
I’d certainly find that easier to justify if it could earn its keep as a mobile writing device, so that was my next experiment …
I’d like to have tested Apple’s own Smart Keyboard, but those appear to be made from unobtainium. Apple was thus pushing the Logitech Create keyboard, made specifically for the iPad Pro. Jeremy has written an excellent full review, but I’ll throw in my thoughts too in commenting on the overall experience of using the combination as a writing tool.
The arrival of the iPad Pro was well-timed for a writing test. It’s not really practical to use it for my work here, as I need too many apps open at once, but I’m currently taking part in National Novel Writing Month – something I do every 2-3 years. I’m thus spending a couple of hours a day when my 9to5Mac duties are complete to work on a book.
That book was supposed to be the sequel to The Billion Dollar Heist, but I hadn’t managed to come up with a plan that matched the scale, spectacle and audacity of the original. I plan my novels all the way down to a scene-by-scene level before I write a word of them, so without a viable plan, I couldn’t start work on the book. I decided to give my brain a rest by writing a short-ish non-fiction book I’d had in the back of my mind for some years.
I do most of my writing on my MacBook Pro, but on Friday set that aside to write on the iPad Pro. I was out for dinner in the evening, so part of the writing was done in the office, part of it on the train there, which allowed me to kill two birds with one stone: assessing the portability of the device, and finding out how well the keyboard worked when used on a lap rather than a desk.
Open, the keyboard looks pretty nice, if nothing special. The shade is yet another variation on Space Gray, and the keys themselves are very MacBook-like in appearance. One advantage of the Logitech keyboard over the Apple one is that it’s backlit, something I’ve come to view as near-essential these days.
In case mode, with the unit closed, it really looks very ordinary. The stylishness of the iPad is completely disguised. It’s smart enough, but that’s about as much as you can say for it. The side views look a little random, though they do keep the speakers exposed and allow access for the Lightning cable.
One thing that’s very welcome is no Bluetooth pairing and no need to charge the keyboard. The Smart Connector does that most Apple-like of things, and Just Works – automatically switching on the keyboard, and keeping it powered.
Snapping the iPad Pro in and out of the casing feels frankly nasty, and I also did find it slipped out a couple of times when I first got it. That hasn’t happened since, despite lots of use, so I suspect there’s just a bit of a knack to it which I’ve now picked up. Similarly, opening the case is a little awkward, lacking a MacBook-style cutout for your fingers – but it does slot very easily into its groove.
The keyboard itself is full size and has a decent amount of movement, but is definitely not MacBook Air/Pro standard – though has a lot more movement than the 12-inch MacBook.
Used on a desk, it’s an ok but not great typing experience. The screen angle is good, but the keys are a little on the spongy side, and I found myself making more mistakes than usual. Given that this is a full-size keyboard, it really should feel a lot better than an equivalent iPad Air 2 keyboard, but it doesn’t.
It’s significantly worse on your lap. The angle of the screen is too steep when you’re looking down at it, and the base is too flimsy: the whole thing wobbles as you type. This is honestly not the experience I expected from Logitech, whose keyboards I normally like.
However, the backlighting works well – I did some writing in the back of a cab in the dark without any difficulty.
One strange omission: there is no apparent way to do a forward delete. The dedicated function keys are also a little on the small side.
Both volume and power buttons are difficult to use through the case, requiring a lot of pressure. It’s actually really hard to take screengrabs, for example, without switching the device off.
In theory, you can use the iPad as a tablet without removing it from its case. In practice, this doesn’t work well. It makes for an extremely thick device, it doesn’t fully sit flat and it wobbles. Either tablet mode was an afterthought when Logitech was designing this, or someone messed up badly. I can’t see that anyone would want to use it in that mode – it’s far better to remove it from the case.
I do most of my mobile writing on my MacBook Air 11. The size and weight is similar to the iPad Pro with Logitech keyboard, and the price is comparable, so it’s reasonable to compare the two.
The MacBook Air keyboard is a lot better, and the trackpad feels more convenient for edits than the touchscreen of the iPad Pro. The Logitech keyboard does offer the standard OS X-style CMD-C/X/V for copying and pasting, but selecting text in the first place is more awkward.
Oddly, I actually found it more annoying than on my iPad Air 2. That may be partly the size – more distance for my hand to move – but also I think the Pro looks and feels like a MacBook, so psychologically I felt it should act like one.
Overall, then, I found the iPad Pro with Logitech keyboard a disappointing writing tool: I’ll definitely be sticking to my MBA for that.
I mentioned the bag problem last time. The iPad Pro doesn’t fit my small bag – the one I take out most of the time – and needs the same bags I’d use for my MacBook Air. But the case does feel robust, and I had nothing else to carry when heading out to dinner on Friday evening, so I decided to just carry it under my arm.
I wasn’t remotely nervous about scratching it. The iPad is extremely well-protected. The rather mundane look of the casing meant I also wasn’t concerned about it attracting unwanted attention.
But even on its own, without a bag, it felt heavy. I think it suffers from the fact that we’ve all become used to iPads being featherweight devices now, and this one definitely isn’t.
It’s interesting how much can change in the space of a few days. On day one, I was really thinking it quite likely that I’d keep the iPad Pro in preference to my iPad Air. On day two, it was looking like a closer call. But five days in, that much of the decision was made: it can’t replace the smaller iPad. The question has now become whether I can justify keeping both.
If it had won me over with its performance as a mobile writing tool, I’d have likely decided yes. But it really hasn’t: I’ve found it significantly inferior to my MacBook Air in that role.
So the obvious call at this point would be to reject the iPad Pro as neither one thing nor the other. Not as convenient as its smaller brother for most tasks, and not as good as a MacBook for writing.
But I do still love that large screen for all the things I mentioned in the introduction, and a significant part of what I’d be rejecting is not the iPad Pro itself, but the combo with the Logitech keyboard. Other keyboards will follow (Brydge is working on one, for example). Could I hold out in the hope that a better keyboard will win me round?
That’s the decision I’m mulling now. I’m veering toward not, but I said I’d give it a week, and I will: I’ll make my final decision on Wednesday.